My favorite commercial hot sauce is Another Bloody Day in Paradise Three Pepper Lemon Hot Sauce, which was originally designed for grilling fish and making Bloody Marys, but IMO is good on everything but dessert. Lately, though, I’ve been wanting a tart, lighter-bodied version of it, so I’ve done some experimenting on my own.
Lemon-pepper hot sauce
12 oz. extra-strength cider vinegarSee the additional notes below.
8-10 good big plump jalapenos
2 large or 3 small lemons
several large cloves of garlic
2 T. dried basil
2 t. dried thyme
2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. ground coriander
1/4 t. ground nutmeg or mace
1/4 t. celery salt
a dash of ground comino
a blender or food processor
Don rubber gloves. Wash and stem the peppers, then put them in the bowl of your food processor to keep them out of trouble. Before going any further, wash your knife, cutting board, and rubber-gloved hands with soap, rinsing thoroughly. After this point, gloves are optional.
Peel or grate the zest off the lemons. Remove the remaining white part of the peel and discard it. Cut the lemons in half and flick out the seeds. (You’re allowed to miss a few.) Put the lemons, zest, and all the other ingredients except the salt and vinegar into the bowl of your food processor.
Process at moderate speed until it reduces to a wet pulp. If it’s too dry, add a quarter-cup of vinegar. Scrape the bowl down, throw in a[nother] quarter-cup of vinegar, and zap it at high speed until it’s either liquefied or you can smell the motor starting to overheat. Add the remaining vinegar at the end.
Pour it out into a wire strainer. When the pulp is drained, remove it to a storage container, salt it strongly, cover it, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Refrigerate the liquid, too. In the morning, run the pulp through the food processor again, then put it back in the strainer and pour the liquid through it. Let it drain, pressing it to squeeze out any last drops. You may want to use cheesecloth or pantyhose for this latter part. Discard the used-up pulp.
You now have a bottle of sauce. You may want to strain it again through finer-gauge filters, though that’s not strictly necessary. Keep it refrigerated. Makes ten or twelve ounces, depending on how hard you squeeze.
Some notes on ingredients:
Jalapenos: The red ones have more flavor; the green ones are hotter. I like having some of each. For a milder sauce, break the peppers in half when you’re stemming them and remove the seeds. Doing this under running water will help get the seeds out, but you’ll have to work fast. Capsaicin doesn’t like water, and via some mechanism I don’t understand, gets into the air, where it will make you cough. (Fresh habaneros are even worse that way. I like to keep them submerged in olive oil, like metallic sodium in kerosene.)
Black (capsicum) pepper, a.k.a. capsicum pepper: The fancy peppercorn mixes with pink, green, white, and brown peppercorns mixed in aren’t just an affectation. They all have slightly different flavors. Grinding them together gives you a richer, broader-spectrum flavor that goes very well in this sauce.
Vinegar: This part is seriously optional, okay? So: The water held in the peppers will dilute your vinegar, so I make mine strong to start via freeze concentration, a.k.a. jacking. Take at least a quart of cider vinegar and pour it into smaller freezer containers. Tall skinny shapes work best. Freeze them, then unmold them and set them upright in a wire strainer over a bowl. The vinegar will melt faster than the water, so you’ll see the brown color gradually drain out of the chunk of ice. The sooner you stop draining, the less water melts into your bowl, but the more vinegar you lose in the ice.
Repeat this process several times with the contents of the bowl and its descendants. If you want, you can also repeat it with the ice chunks, adding their first strong runoff to the stuff from the bowl. Over time your batches will diverge, some growing paler and milder, others getting darker and stronger, until you’re left with a thin washy vinegary solution you can use for rinsing your hair, and a smaller amount of dark, almost viscous concentrated vinegar. If I put a drop of it on the tip of my tongue and it hurts, I figure it’s ready to use.
This same trick can be used to raise the alcohol content of hard cider, i.e. make applejack, and to concentrate fruit juices without heating them. (Pressure cookers are all very well, but I want a vacuum cooker too.)
Pantyhose: The strainer of choice for large projects. A new pair is best, but a well-washed old pair works too—you’re not going to use the crotch and foot anyway. Tie a very tight knot just above the foot and trim off everything below it. Cut the other bits off at the top. Take the top edge and roll it down as though you were putting on an old-fashioned gartered stocking. Leave a few inches at the bottom. Set the dangly end in a bowl and start scooping your fruit pulp or salsa makings into the opening. A canning funnel or a friend who can hold the top open for you is good here, or you can use a tuna can with its top and bottom cut off as a support. Gradually unroll more fabric as the stocking fills. A full-length leg will hold a surprising amount. When you’re done, tie another knot and hang the thing up to drain.